Un Anglais à Marseille #7 bis
Prof d’anglais et coursier à vélo à Marseille, Rory Launder livre son regard sur la ville tout en vous donnant une occasion de réviser votre anglais toutes les deux semaines. Suite du septième épisode, dans lequel il se rappelle le 5 novembre 2018 et le drame qui a frappé la rue d’Aubagne où il résidait alors.
Emerging into the sunlight, dazed, I look right: the entire street is chock-a-block with fire trucks and ambulances. Police everywhere. This was back in a time when I wasn’t afraid of police. Looking left: rubble, flashing lights, boulders and dust. A car with its roof caved-in under the impact of fallen masonry, crushed scooters, and this hole. A hole in the street. Where there had previously been a building, there was now a gap, revealing wallpaper and tiles. Screwed-in wooden cabinets dangling, that had somehow survived.
There was a woman standing in the street receiving medical attention, visibly in shock. Just staring, immobile, covered head to toe in white dust. Everything was covered in dust. No sounds. I guess in reality there was shouting and sirens. But nothing registered, nothing remembered. People asked “Didn’t you hear anything?” I said there was a half-remembered swooshing sound, like the glass recycling truck. I don’t know.
Stupidly I walked down the hill – on the other side of the road – but only metres from the epicentre. A nervous reverential glance at the hole, I turn away, and continue down, Moustier, Davso, Estienne d’Orves. We should have evacuated the area via the back of the Domaine Ventre straight onto Moustier. Or walked up the hill towards Place Cézanne. But water runs downhill.
I say building (rather than buildings) because at this point I knew exactly which building had fallen. The one with the massive fucking hole in the roof. Weeks earlier (or perhaps months) I had been standing opposite, wondering who owned it. Fantasising about maybe buying it to do it up. No glass in the windows, just battered wooden shutters hanging off hinges, rotting. You could see right through the roof. There were two large holes. The larger a couple of metres across. You could clearly see an expanse of blue sky through the roof from the street. I knew this building was unoccupied. No conception of the enormity, that number 63 had taken its neighbour down with it.
Sitting at Polikarpov drinking coffee, luckily I had a bit of money in my account, I was okay. A bit shaken, but the real extent of the tragedy had not yet revealed itself. I called my Mum. Half because I knew she would see something in the news and be panicked, but more because parents for all their nagging inconvenience are undeniably stabilising.
I wrote a quick post on Facebook to say I was fine, but that if anyone had been in the building it would be grave. I still find it incredible that no passer-by was killed. I could have been walking past on my way to buy bread, I’m not sure to what extent that thought affected or even still affects me. A few quick calls around to be sure the nearest and dearest were safe, mine were. There is a primary school in the Domaine Ventre. The children are regularly led out in their high-visibility vests, holding hands in pairs, for excursions. They could easily have been passing that morning.
Then it kind of cuts. I don’t remember anything much. A friend says he remembers coming to Maraîchers to meet me. The immediate question I couldn’t escape was: is it safe to sleep in my house? I decided yes. I lived twenty metres up the hill, on the other side of the road. My building did not have a massive hole in the roof.
The street was eerily quiet. There was a generator, a digger, spotlights, and experts. Slowly the hole was being excavated. There were bodies, but no survivors. There were rumours and conspiracy theories, that there were squatters in number 63 ‘sans papiers’, that the whole block would be demolished. Concrete has been poured over the site, it has been sealed. Whether the entire block, the triangle including Jean Roque and Cours Lieutaud will be razed to make way for shiny new apartments remains to be seen.
Towards one o’clock in the morning I access the Domaine Ventre via Moustier. With some reluctance I turn the corner left and up towards my house. Crossing a barrier of waist-high red and white plastic tape I slow my pace. There were lights and voices ahead. Inching around the corner I see two policemen. Not tonight, I slink away… I slept elsewhere. The following night they were gone. I brushed my teeth, set my phone to charge, and in the absolute cold and silence of an evacuated zone, I went to sleep.
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